There are a number of ideas regarding what constitutes “wood, hay, straw,” and “gold silver precious stone” in 1Corinthians 3:12. I suggest that gold, silver, and precious stones refer to God’s wisdom (as revealed in His Word), and wood, hay, and straw refer to man’s wisdom. The key to understanding the Corinthian problem is Paul’s use of the word sophos which appears 26 times in the Greek within the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, and is translated wise or wisdom in the NASB. Paul only uses the word 18 other times in all of his epistles.[i]
In addition, I would add that the words know or knowledge appear in the NASB 10 times in these same three chapters. Consequently, the words for wisdom or know appear 36 times in the first three chapters as a continuing contrast between human wisdom (wood, hay, stray) and God’s wisdom (gold, silver, precious stone), culminating in this juxtaposition “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18).
When we stand before the Bema seat of Christ, the criteria that is laid down in these three chapters for judging whether we are rewarded or not for our work in building the local church will be, was your contribution, evaluation, membership, participation, serving, supporting, strengthening, based on human wisdom it will burn or God’s wisdom Scripture, it will be rewarded.
While human wisdom plays a part in building the church facility wherein the church meets, it has no part in building the church of Christ. God’s word has sufficiently revealed how to build the spiritual lives of His people. God’s word is sufficient to supply the wisdom and knowledge we need to serve and honor Him. When we choose to build the local church according to His wisdom, He graciously rewards us; when when we choose to build it with human wisdom, we lose rewards because He will destroy all human rewards and accolades. Therefore, each person must “be careful how he builds” (1 Corinthians 3:10).
One gargantuan obstacle to building with God’s wisdom is that humans seem quite adept at overlaying wood, hay, and straw with gold, making them appear to be pure gold, but the fire of the scrutiny of the holy One will expose it as mere spiritual cosmetics.
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
[i] Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart note that Paul uses wisdom or wise 26 times in chapters 1-3 and only 18 more times in all of Paul’s letters. How to Read the Bible for all its worth, p63,